Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 670
Published in 2008, Gary D. Schmidt's young adult novel Trouble is a tale of moral awakening written with an intricate interweaving of subplots. The central character, intermediate prep school student Henry Smith, comes from a well-to-do Massachusetts dynasty whose roots are firmly embedded in three centuries of historical America. Henry's father has tried to insulate his family from Trouble, but Trouble comes to them anyway when Henry's older brother Franklin is struck by a vehicle while he is out jogging. Franklin lies in a hospital for weeks, horribly maimed and comatose, awakening only once before he dies to fix his gaze on Henry and to utter the word "Katahdin."
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Franklin had planned to climb Katahdin, the formidable mountain peak in neighboring Maine, with his younger brother. When Franklin dies, Henry resolves to make the ascent alone in his brother's memory, but as it turns out, circumstances dictate that he climb with three unexpected companions. His best friend, Sanborn Brigham, is insistent that he be allowed to tag along, and through their proximity during the course of their travels, Henry learns of the deep emptiness that comes from having parents who materially give a child everything he could want, but emotionally remain completely indifferent to him. Henry's second companion on the journey is someone for whom he at first has nothing but enmity, a young Cambodian immigrant named Chay Chouan, who was the purported driver of the vehicle that killed Franklin. At first unaware of the identity of the boy whom fate has so inexplicably brought again into his life, Henry comes to recognize the quiet nobility and strength of Chay, who has lost everything, including family and home, through war and the unpardonable sin of loving an American girl. The third person to climb Katahdin with Henry is his sister Louisa, who joins the group for the final leg of the trip and harbors devastating secrets of her own. What had begun as a quest to simply prove his own worthiness in his brother's memory becomes an endeavor of far greater significance for Henry, as he recognizes that, contrary to his father's teaching that "if you build your house far enough away from Trouble, then Trouble will never find you," Trouble is an unavoidable part of living. Through his experiences on the journey, Henry learns that, in order to live well, one must learn to "live where Trouble is," and he ultimately climbs Katahdin in search of the strength within himself to do just that.
In exploring the central theme of Trouble as a universal element of the human experience, the author focuses in particular on the myth of perceived respectability and the problems of racism and bigotry. Buoyed by the impeccable gentility of his family line, Franklin is a standout both academically and athletically in his exclusive high school, and Henry, living perpetually in his older brother's shadow, looks up to him as a hero. As events develop in his life, however, Henry begins to see that Franklin is not what he is perceived to be. Franklin is not, in the end, at all indestructible, and, more important than that, Henry realizes that his brother was lacking in the areas that count most. Despite the esteem in which he seemed to be held by all, Franklin was a bully, and basically just not a very nice person.
In addressing the issues of racism and bigotry, the author further develops the theme of the universality of Trouble, and illustrates that there is no easy way of avoiding or overcoming it. Chay Chouan has been persecuted because of his identity in his country of origin, in America, and even within his own family, yet, without excusing it, the author brings out the point that even bigotry has roots which are, in the final analysis, understandable. The story's message is clear - life is full of Trouble, and living well means learning to deal with it; redemption is possible through the love individuals share with each other, and the healing power of Grace.